We’re coming up on the anniversary of the date that I first walked through the doors of The Love Wins Community Engagement Center, determined to keep it open if only by sheer will. I showed up with a box of fried chicken, my co-worker, John, and 4 hours of sleep (for both of us), as we had just gotten off of work together at 4 a.m. the night before. It had rained in sheets all night and the parking lot was flooded. The floor just inside of the donation entrance was flooded. Everyone was wet, hungry and miserable.
That morning, Alyssa from Raleigh Mennonite Church also came to volunteer, and we looked at each other and laughed. Of course she was here, we have had a 2-decade long friendship and it made perfect sense that she would be called to the same place. A couple of volunteers showed up from all the way in Chapel Hill to help us open the doors, make coffee, throw away the moldy bread and clean up the flooded floor. We learned to open and run the center by literally opening and running the center.
Our early days were punctuated by me asking for things on Facebook; clean socks, clean clothes, coffee, sugar, peanut butter, trash bags, soap, shampoo, beans and rice, emergency band-aids. Times were tough and it was spring, the time of year where all non-profits see a huge dip in funding. Our first 4 months, I just look back on in wonder. How did we make it work? How did we survive? We were all in crisis mode and I feel like I called in every single favor that I knew how to.
I commemorate this time in the center’s life because it was truly a time of resilience. We had a place to be and whatever was in the building, which we had to discover, one piece at a time. Hugh was there to be our guide, but he was going through this hard time too in a totally different way. He felt betrayed, sad and depressed. He wasn’t sure that the center could remain open. He wasn’t sure if he could trust again. We were relying on the kindness of friends and strangers to get us though, and one day at a time, we did it.
I don’t have the same connections as Hugh: He’s a reverend, he had 10 years to grow into this platform, in some circles he’s practically a celebrity. I have some BIG shoes to fill here and a totally different background.
I am proud to say that the connections that I have with the service industry and our LGBT community are solid and their support has been enthusiastic and unwavering. People want the chance to give back, and when given the opportunity, show up big.
Over the last year, a lot has changed. While we’re working on half the budget and half the staff of the previous year, we’re packing in a lot of tangible help in a very short time period. We have 4 hours a day to do the most good. We make it the best 4 hours that we can.
We now have a nutrition program where we’re a partner agency through the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina, so we can stretch every penny that we get to make sure that no one goes hungry. We have a beautiful Really Free Closet that now looks like a very tiny store. We have an actual Peer-Support Specialist during a time when the opioid epidemic is at an all-time high. We’ve got a LOT of work to do in a short amount of time.
But as spring comes around again, I start to worry if we can make it until fall.
We have to make it, though. Summer brings new problems. I’ve already given away my first bunch of sunblock to people who got sunburned this weekend. Soon we’ll have bug bites, rashes, dehydration and a serious need for baby-wipes and deodorant. The needs change with the seasons. We’ll be making turkey salad instead of turkey soup because everyone will be so hot. We’ll need hats, visors, sunglasses, shorts, t-shirts and tank tops. We’ll need Gatorade and bottled water. Summer is a different demon.
Real talk for a minute: We’ll also need operating funds. It’s a long seven months until the season of giving again, but all of the bills remain. Please help me broaden my circle.
If you would like us to come speak at your church or social group, please let me know. Please share this blog post so people know that we are here and what we do. If you would like to host a fundraiser, please email us. I rely on my friends a lot. We rely on our center’s friends a lot. We rely on Hugh’s friends a lot. Now we need to keep expanding the circle and inviting in new friends, especially with the rising numbers of homeless people in Wake County and our current lack of affordable housing.
Thank you all for supporting one of the most meaningful years of my life. I feel lucky every single day to have truly meaningful work. I feel lucky every time I get to speak in front of a group of people about homelessness, or when I get an opportunity to teach people about the cycles of poverty.
My ever supportive husband, Elliot, is so proud of this work and often has the opportunity to talk to people, one-on-one, in my absence about what we do at the center and how people can get involved. My life has changed drastically in the past year, but it’s an amazing change. Sacrifices were made, but everyone was supportive of those changes.
We’re changing peoples’ lives here, and, as Hugh says, “Sometimes this shit works.”
Actually, every time it works. Love Wins!